Michael Symon is a meat guy, not a meat and potatoes guy. Don’t get me wrong – he loves new potatoes. But, he wants us to know he always pairs lean and fat, and the chef himself is a surprising contrast. On Iron Chef, Symon hopes for suckling pig and dreads tofu, yet he’s the same chef who will only cook ribeye with acidic dishes like zucchini with lemon or grilled peaches with jalapeno. A Food Network favorite since 1998, Symon is known for his bold soulful flavors and infectious laugh, which even in an interview was hard to resist. Changing the face of the Cleveland dining scene, Symon started with the opening of nationally acclaimed restaurant Lola, where he served food till 2:00 AM and proved that Cleveland could very well host one of America’s hottest food spots. You can catch Symon discussing mouth watering favorites on Best Thing I Ever Ate, or dominating on Iron Chef, where he’s reigned since 2008 when he won the very first season of The Next Iron Chef. This isn’t the only place Symon is top dog; he’s won the last three Burger Bashes at South Beach’s Food and Wine festival – and we wouldn’t end the interview until he shared some secrets to the perfect burger. Now, Symon shares recipes and cooking advice with legendary chefs like Mario Batali on ABC’s first food talk show, The Chew. It’s a show whose dynamic he accurately compares to the culinary culture of Julia Childs, making us realize this chef is ushering in an entirely new genre of food TV, or perhaps just bringing it back to life.
We find a look into someone’s ideal food day informs us more about them. Can you describe what your ideal food day would be?
That’s a good question. It would start with egg, cheddar, bacon and hot sauce on a soft roll. Then lunch would be Tagliatelle Bolognese and some salad. Dinner would be Jonathan Waxman’s roast chicken with salsa verde and a side of potatoes. If the weather was nice I’d sit outside Barbuto with a glass of rose with Liz [my wife]. That’s all I need.
You’re well known for the amazing things you can do with meat. What’s the trick to doing it right?
1. It doesn’t matter If you’re a good cook – you need to start with good meat. So go to the store and buy the best quality you can afford.
2. Plan a day ahead. I always season my meat the night before with kosher salt and any spices I want on there.
3. Let the meat sit at room temperature for 15 minutes or so before you cook it so the chill comes off and it cooks even.
4. On the grill don’t move it all over the place. Grab a beer, do a dance, whatever you have to do. Then you’ll have a nice crust when you flip. But really make sure it rests before you flip.
5. At the end once it’s cooked, if it’s a meat I’m going to slice, I season the cutting board. So I drizzle some olive oil on the cutting board, and sprinkle kosher salt on top of that, and then cut the meat on that surface.
We all know how popular B Spot is, and you won your third consecutive burger bash this year at South Beach. Can you give us some tips to the perfect burger? What’s your secret?
Again start with great beef. We usually will use aged beef to give it some depth of flavor. Our mix is brisket, short rib and sirloin. So, what you have is 20-23% fat in the burger. I grind the meat coarse. I don’t grind it too fine. When you pack it you shouldn’t pack it tight – it should still be loose. Definitely make sure your cheese is all the way melted when you serve it, and always toast the bun and brush with either mayo or butter. I also like texture in my burger, so maybe bacon, crispy onions or crunchy cole slaw. I’m also not a fancy bun guy. I don’t like to use brioche. I like a really soft bun.
When you’re cooking just for family and friends, what’s your go to recipe?
I make pasta a lot for family and friends. My mom’s spaghetti or lasagna. If I have my buddies over I’ll grill a few ribeyes with tomato salad and onion with homemade vinaigrette. It also depends on the season. Summer I always grill meat with something to contrast it, something with acidity. I like to pair lean with fat. I never do meat and potatoes because I like fattier cuts. So, I like something light with it, because the meats already very rich. Something like grilled peaches with jalapeño vinaigrette or zucchini salad with lemon. But I’m not going to do meat and mashed potatoes.